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Kenneth Kieser: Harvest of a hunt can be valuable

The Examiner
How valuable is squirrel meat?

Hunting season has begun. Note that before our 2020 crisis and election year, hunting numbers were dropping off. Now the number of hunters in our woods has increased.

Do you wonder why? Fear, many are returning to our old ways because people believe we have an uncertain future.

They may be right.

I was born in the early 1950s and knew many that were born in the late 1800s. They survived two world wars and the Great Depression. Many lost everything during these times of strife when the future was uncertain. Yet, they learned how to survive.

I decided to go squirrel hunting one bright fall morning in the early 1970s. I walked down a beautiful oak ridge with my .22 long rifle and occasionally sat to enjoy a freshly picked apple while watching the tree tops.

I shot six fox squirrels that day, all clean head shots. My family ate squirrel back then, but something told me these could serve a better purpose. So, I drove about 10 miles east to a small town that had died out except one old fashioned grocery store with cold bottles of pop.

A man who had been best friends with my great grandfather lived within walking distance of that store. I loved that man like family and in my youth had enjoyed outings with him and Grandpa. Something told me to take the squirrels to him.

I carefully skinned each squirrel in his backyard and then cut the meat into frying-sized pieces. I walked to the store for my bottle of pop and some plastic bags to freeze the meat. The man who was almost legally blind gratefully accepted my offering with words that would haunt me forever,

“Boy, I’d rather have these than beef steak.”

I remember driving home with tears in my eyes, thinking about him. He was born in 1880 and fought in WWI. During the Depression he often fed his family by hunting and fishing. Many turn their nose up at eating a carp, but my great grandmother learned to make it taste delicious. She, too, seasoned squirrel meat and fried it to perfection. Some squirrels were cut up and parboiled, then added to a Brunswick-style stew.

During the Depression, a few farmers could afford to butcher a beef or hog for their family. Most had to raise and sell livestock to avoid losing their homes. These were times when any meal that filled bellies was welcomed – including some items we may find unappetizing today. Imagine how valuable feeding their family a squirrel or wild rabbit dinner was in those days.

That squirrel meat no doubt took him back to good and bad memories. His wife, affected by the Depresion, committed suicide by hanging when their kids were little. He raised his kids and farmed until his children grew old enough to help. They all grew up and eventually he was a grandfather and a man who never lost his faith.

He died a few weeks after my visit, but I like to believe he had a bit of happiness during his last days because of my gift. Hopefully most of our future generations will never face a hard life like my friend.

How many of you would rather have squirrel meat over beef steak? Not me, but I never faced tough times like my friend, even though our family was poor during my youth. Wild game was just another meal for us. Will that always be the case?

What is the value of learning to hunt? Why is hunting season suddenly more important to many that it has been for many years? What is the value of squirrel meat?

Someone once told me that a dollar is a lot of money when you don’t have a dollar. The same can be said of a meal when you are hungry without anything to eat. Will we ever come to that point here?

Many claim we eventually could have a meat shortage. I hope not for my grandchildren’s sake, yet it is possible.

Many are returning to hunting and buying large stores of ammunition for fear of the unknown future. Hopefully this is unnecessary and these added supplies will eventually be used for enjoyable days of target practicing.

I strongly recommend that you enroll your youth in hunter’s education classes offered free by state conservation agencies. Let them learn how to safely use firearms and principles for a safe hunt.

Hopefully future generations will learn to hunt. We can only pray that they will never need to realize the true value of squirrel meat.

– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at kieserkenneth@gmail.com.

Kenneth L. Kieser